This year I returned to PLAY Expo in Manchester, making it my third visit to this great retro gaming event! How did it compare to previous years? I think I can safely say it has been my favourite PLAY Expo experience yet, but there’s a lot more to say than just that.
As soon as I entered the building, the layout felt more compact and compartmentalised than previously. It seemed more organised and made efficient use of the space. We were greeted with friendly staff and two replica cars from the Transformers movie I had seen on my previous visit back in 2014.
There was a great mix of retro consoles, indie developers, shops/sellers, arcade units, pinball machines, and even some new games (such as playable versions of the upcoming Tekken 7!). I felt this catered well to a variety of gamers, as well as families in general, even those who were not possibly into video games but were brought along to the event.
My only thought for 2017 would be to provide a printed leaflet of the layout and stage times for things such as games demonstrations and talks. I was asking around all day when the Tomb Raider talk was supposed to start and no one seemed to know. Not many people knew where the bar was either. I think it would help prevent missing out on these talks and raise awareness to what’s available at the show.
Crafters and Sellers
Last year one of the biggest disappointments for me was the prices for retro games, exceeding most eBay “Buy it now” listings (including postage) which were already inflated. This year still had a few of those, but there was a lot more independent sellers and bigger stores selling at reasonable prices. I don’t bother checking prices online when buying from a seller, as I already have an idea of how much things are worth and I’m happy to pay what I feel is fair. This is fortunate for me as there was no 3G/4G signal, and no one (including staff) had any idea what the press WiFi password was.
There was a great selection of handmade items available too. Everything from Tavington Craft’s fantastic plush gaming items to pixel bead art and more. Overall the prices for all things seemed generally reasonable and I came home with some great purchases.
Arcades, Consoles and Pinball Tables
I was so excited to find the return of the deluxe Out Run and After Burner arcade units! I had the opportunity to experience them in 2014, but they were absent last year. In fact there was a wide range of excellent titles available including Power Drift, Time Crisis 1 and 2, House of the Dead 1, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Simpsons, seriously there were so many I used to play in the arcades. A fantastic selection.
The same can be said for the Pinball Tables and the vast array of consoles setup with games to play. Everyone seemed to be having a great time and with the exception of Out Run and After Burner, the wait time to play them wasn’t too bad. You get the occasional people who hog the machines, but thankfully there is plenty to choose from, so it’s best to move on when people are like that and come back later. Everything is free-to-play (no “insert coin” required!), so this area is worth the entry fee alone!
Cosplay and R2D2
I haven’t really talked too much about cosplayers in the past, but this year had some really impressive examples including a giant Chaos Marine and Big Daddy (BioShock).
There was even an R2D2 going around. I couldn’t find who was operating it, but whoever it was did a fantastic job of entertaining the crowd.
Indie Developers and Tekken 7
Tekken 7 was one of the games I was most excited to play this year. There were multiple PS4s setup so the wait times were short and there were a few other games available to try as well. The graphics and gameplay were awesome and I’m really looking forward to this one coming out!
As for the Indie games, nothing really caught my eye this year. I was secretly hoping for maybe playable demos of Yuka-Laylee or Sonic Mania, but they weren’t there. For those of you who love indie titles though, this is an absolutely fantastic opportunity to try out some upcoming titles and talk with the actual developers themselves. Previously, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed talking to them, but there was way too much to fit into just one day, so I didn’t get as much time in this area as I’d have liked.
Conferences and Talks
One of the biggest moments I was looking forward to at PLAY Expo was the 20th Tomb Raider Anniversary Celebration. Being such a huge fan of the game (I even recently made a video about the original Tomb Raider), it was fantastic to hear from the various developers and composer Nathan McCree, who’s music for the game is simply amazing. I loved his comments and explanation of how he approached the main theme. I only wish I’d got around to meeting him and the rest of the team afterwards.
Meeting You and Making New Friends
A real highlight for me this year was the opportunity of meeting so many incredible people from the retro gaming community I talk to on Twitter, YouTube and other social networks including Onaretrotip, TootyUK, EternalSteph, EternalNav, RetroJoe, Retro Rich, RichX, TorAthena, 0ctav1us1, Michael Gaime, GaminGuys (Neil) and more. I even got to meet with the awesome GamesYouLoved who interviewed me (eeek!), so keep an eye out for that! I’ll post/share it when I get the chance.
There were so many awesome and genuinely nice people there. I tried to give out my stickers to everyone who supports my growing Twitter page and YouTube Channel as a thank you for all your generosity, kindness and support. I also gave out a couple of free retro games, so if you were lucky enough to get one of those, I hope you enjoy them!
I got to make some new friends too, as this event seems to attract people with such a great attitude and obviously the shared interest/love for retro gaming. I absolutely love this community and will have a new “Gamer Spotlight” article coming soon.
PLAY Expo 2016 in Manchester
This year’s PLAY Expo in Manchester has to be my most favourite yet. The other ones were incredibly fun too, but this year got the right balance; an excellent selection of retro games to play (arcade, console, pinball, even card games and board games too!), celebrating 20 years of Tomb Raider, trying out Tekken 7, generally reasonable prices, great atmosphere, and getting to meet so many amazing people!
The Monday that followed was SO bad, I really had the post-PLAY Expo blues which I had never experienced before (many others did too). All I can really say now is that I can’t wait for 2017!!!
If you went to the event I’d love to hear what you thought of it too (comment below). Please also let me know if you were one of the cosplayers in the photos above and I will try to give credit where possible (I’m also happy to send you a high-res version of the photo if you want one).
A special thank you goes to Lewis for taking the photos. You did awesome mate!